Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles

Gay rights, children's rights

Opinion by Margaret Somerville, founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law; author of 'The Ethical Canary: Science, Society, and the Human Spirit'

National Post, July 14, 2005.

As its advocates claim, same-sex marriage will be a powerful public statement against the discrimination suffered by homosexuals. But it will also affect the fundamental rights of children, a vulnerable group of Canadians with no power to protect themselves at the ballot box. So let me try to speak for them, and put forward the case that accepting same-sex marriage requires that we enact new legislation to protect children's rights.

When limited to the union of a man and a woman, marriage establishes, as the norm, children's right to an identified biological mother and father, and to be reared by them, unless there are good reasons to the contrary. Same-sex marriage, in disconnecting marriage from procreation, compromises this right for all children, not just those brought into same-sex marriages. The new law, Bill C-38, implements that change by redefining parenthood from natural parenthood to legal parenthood -- from an institution defined by biology, to one defined solely by law.

New reproductive technologies (NRTs) raise difficulties in relation to children's rights. Opposite-sex couples have used these technologies since their inception, but as an exceptional intervention to treat infertility, not as the norm. The focus that same-sex marriage has placed on these technologies has alerted us to previously unrecognized ethical issues -- since same-sex couples can be expected to resort to them as a matter of course.

One issue is children's rights to know their parents and, thereby, their own biological identity. Legislation establishing the right of adopted children to know the identity of their biological parents is becoming common in Canada; internationally, the same right is increasingly being accorded to children born through gamete donation (sperm or egg). But in Canada, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act 2004 (AHR Act) prohibits disclosure without the donor's consent. In Quebec, where the province's Civil Code recognizes same-sex couples' "projects involving assisted procreation," and two women can be the parents listed on a birth certificate, the identity of the biological father is not even recorded.

A second issue is children's rights to be born from the union of one natural, unmodified ovum and one natural, unmodified sperm. Technological possibilities on the horizon include making embryos from two ova or two sperm and making gametes from adult stem cells, thus allowing a same-sex couple to have their own "shared baby" -- and even to further fiddle with the genetic makeup of that baby.

Absent new legislation, current trends suggest that any prohibition on such technologies is likely to be challenged as unconstitutional under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For instance, some gay male couples plan to challenge the ban on payment to surrogate mothers enacted in the AHR Act of 2004 as a discriminatory infringement of their right to found a family. The Act's bans on cloning and payment for gametes might be challenged on the same basis.

Until now, unfortunately, the impact of NRTs on children born through their use has been largely ignored: It has been readily assumed there were no major ethical problems in creating children from donated gametes, and that opposition was almost entirely based on religious beliefs.

That is changing dramatically now that the first cohort of people born through the use of NRTs is reaching adulthood. These "donor conceived adults" describe powerful feelings of loss of identity arising from their ignorance of their parents' identity, and describe themselves as "genetic orphans."

Ethically, it is one thing to respect people's right to privacy and
 self-determination, especially in an area as intimate as reproduction. It is quite another matter for society to become complicit in intentionally depriving children of their rights with respect to their biological family. In order to mitigate the harms that can be avoided, a statement of children's rights must be legislated.

These rights should include: (1) The right to be conceived with a natural biological heritage -- that is, to have unmodified biological origins -- in particular, to be conceived from a natural sperm from one identified man and a natural ovum from one identified woman; and (2) the right to know the identity of one's biological parents. (I leave aside here the ethics of society's involvement in intentionally breaching a child's right to both a mother and a father -- which obviously conflicts in a Read More ..ndamental way with the concept of same-sex marriage.)

Knowing the identity of one's close biological relatives is central to forming our individual human identity, developing our capacity to relate to others, and the quest to find meaning in life. Children have the right to know "where they came from" genetically and to come from natural, untampered with biological origins. Ignorance of one's natural family is painful enough. We can only imagine how much damage would be done to children born from artificial gametes constructed through biotechnology.

National Post

Ontario's child financial support collection agency has big problems

Ontario's Family Responsibility Office has many problems

Quote from Ontario Government Ombudsman -"an equal opportunity error-prone program,."'

Support recipients not getting their money.

Men who've been meeting their court-ordered obligations have trouble getting the FRO to stop taking payments when it's supposed to.   Read More ..

National Post logo

Pilloried, broke, alone

March 25, 2000

Divorced fathers get a bad rap for not supporting their children. The truth is, many can't. And, tragically, some are driven to desperate measures, including suicide.

In his suicide note, Jim, the father of four children, protests that "not all fathers are deadbeats." Jim hanged himself because he couldn't see any alternative. Even now, his children are unaware of the circumstances of their father's death. Meeno Meijer, National Post George Roulier is fighting to regain money wrongfully taken from his wages by the Ontario child-support collection agency. Chris Bolin, National Post Alan Heinz, a Toronto firefighter, has gone bankrupt fighting for the return of his daughter, 3, from Germany. No one will help him, but German authorities are trying to collect child support from him.

Whenever fathers and divorce are discussed, one image dominates: the 'deadbeat dad,' the schmuck who'd rather drive a sports car than support his kids. Because I write about family matters, I'm regularly inundated with phone calls, faxes, letters and e-mail from divorced men. It's not news that divorced individuals have little good to say about their ex-spouses. What I'm interested in is whether the system assists people during this difficult time in their lives, or compounds their misery. From the aircraft engineer in British Columbia, to the postal worker on the prairies, to the fire fighter in Toronto, divorced fathers' stories are of a piece: Though society stereotypes these men relentlessly, most divorced dads pay their child support. Among those who don't, a small percentage wilfully refuse to (the villains you always hear about).

What you haven't been told is that the other men in arrears are too impoverished to pay, have been ordered to pay unreasonable amounts, have been paying for unreasonable lengths of time, or are the victims of bureaucratic foul-ups. Read More ..

Calgary Sun newspaper logo

Non-dad on hook for support

Edmonton and Calgary Sun
Feb 5, 2005

EDMONTON -- An Edmonton judge has decided a divorced dad has to make child support payments, even though the child isn't his. Justin Sumner had an on-again-off-again relationship with the woman he eventually married, Dawn Sumner.

She already had a child from a previous relationship with a man named Rob Duncan, and as she and Justin broke up and reunited, Dawn was sexually involved with both men.

When she found she was pregnant, she called Justin, who recognized there was a possibility that Duncan was the father, but later concluded he was the dad. Read More ..

Father Committeed Suicide after calling Family Responsibility Office

Andrew T. Renouf committed suicide on or about October 17, 1995 because he had 100% of his wages taken by the Family Responsibility Office, a child support collection agency of the Government of Ontario, Canada.

He asked for assistance for food and shelter from the welfare office and was refused because he had a job, even though all of his wages were taken by the Family Responsibility Office.

Andy was a loving father that hadn't seen his daughter in 4 years.

A memorial service was held in October, 1998, for Andy in front of the Family Responsibility Office at 1201 Wilson Avenue, West Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is in the Ministry of Transportation grounds in the Keele St. & Hwy 401 area. All members of the Ontario Legislature were invited by personal letter faxed to their offices. Not one turned up. The Director of the Family Responsibility Office and his entire staff were invited to the brief service. The Director refused and wouldn't let the staff attend the service although it was scheduled for lunch time. There was a peaceful demonstration by followed by a very touching service by The Reverend Alan Stewart. The text of the service will soon be able to be read below.

The service made the TV evening news.

It was Andy's last wish that his story be told to all. YOU CAN READ HIS SUICIDE NOTE

Auditor General Ontario

Auditor General of Ontario

Disasterous Report on the Family Reponsibility Office FRO 2010

80% of Telephone calls don't get answered

Payers and recipients do not have direct access to their assigned enforcement services officer

"There is only limited access to enforcement staff because many calls to the Office do not get through or are terminated before they can be answered."

"The Office is reviewing and working on only about 20% to 25% of its total cases in any given year."

"At the end of our audit in April 2010, there were approximately 91,000 bring-forward notes outstanding, each of which is supposed to trigger specific action on a case within one month. The status of almost one-third of the outstanding bring-forward notes was "open," indicating either that the notes had been read but not acted upon, or that they had not been read at all, meaning that the underlying nature and urgency of the issues that led to these notes in the first place was not known. In addition, many of the notes were between one and two years old."

"For ongoing cases, the Office took almost four months from the time the case went into arrears before taking its first enforcement action. For newly registered cases that went straight into arrears, the delay was seven months from the time the court order was issued."

Read the shocking report by The Auditor General of Ontario Report on the Family Responsibility Office

Ottawa Citizen

Ontario agency admits to overbilling on child support payments

The Ottawa Citizen
January 14, 2012

TORONTO - Ontario's controversial Family Responsibility Office has been overbilling 1,700 parents, mostly fathers, for as long as 13 years, the province admitted Friday.

The 1,700 parents were overbilled by an average $75 each month, after the agency wrongly applied a cost of living adjustment that was eliminated in 1997.

Those who were overpaid will not be forced to give the money back.

Instead, taxpayers will foot the $5.3 million bill for the agency's mistake.

"This error's been found and it's being corrected," said Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy. "We're going to be reaching out to those individuals (who were overbilled) and talking to them about their situation, formally alerting them."

The Family Responsibility Office, or FRO, is responsible for ensuring court-ordered child support payments are made. Read More .. than 97 per cent of all payers overseen by the office are male.

Milloy said the agency discovered the problem at some point in 2011. No one will be fired for the mistakes, he added.

"I see this as something very serious," he said in an interview. "I'm not trying to minimize it, but … there's been lots of action taken to reform FRO, to update computer systems, to update customer relations and it's on a much firmer footing."

The billing mistake is only the latest controversy to engulf FRO.  Read More ..

Women's Post Newspaper

"Canada's national newspaper for professional women"

The Family Responsibility Office Under Scrutiny

On June 9, 2005 the McGuinty government announced the passage of Bill 155, legislation that promised to increase enforcement, improve fairness and enhance efficiency at the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).

However, the legislation did not address the problem of accountability and, as things now stand, the FRO is a threat to every Canadian affected by a government regulated support and custody arrangement system. Think of George Orwell's 1984 and you'll have a good picture of how issues are handled at the FRO.

They have legal power to extort money from Canadians, but are not responsible or accountable for their actions.

Last year an FRO staff member decided not to wait for a court date to review the financial status of an out-of-work truck driver and took it upon themselves to suspend his license because he was, understandably, behind on his payments, having lost his job earlier in the year. Although he was looking for work, the FRO cut off the only way he knew of to earn a living. His suicide note explained how he'd lost all hope. Is this what we want FRO to be doing?  Read More ..